Shopping at size 24:’ The sales assistant shakes her head at me’
The high street can be intimidating if youre not mannequin-shaped. Jonatha Kottler navigates rude staff and empty rails to find her perfect fit
If I were scouting places for my nightmares, Im pretty sure a fluorescent-lit cubicle with multiple mirrors and me standing in the middle, shivering in my underpants, would be an excellent selection. I am the opposite of a clothes horse.( What is that? A clothes pedestrian ?)
My wardrobe was of not even fleeting fear when my husband, 16 -year-old son and I decided to leave Albuquerque, New Mexico, and move to Amsterdam in the winter of 2012. We were looking for change and escapade, so we got rid of most of our stuff and moved, taking 38 boxes and three cats. I had travelled abroad before and knew that my size would be an issue. I am an American sizing 20( UK 24 ), also known as plus size or even women size, both vague and euphemistic ways of saying fat. In one store, I fitted a size 20 on the bottom and 22 on the top. Plus sizing implies that there is some platonic ideal size out there, and that I was beyond it. Womens size implies that fat girls are women and that other women are … not?
So I stocked up on clothes for all of their own families before we departed, buying new jeans, underwear and pyjamas at my favourite, reliable superstore: Target. I couldnt have imagined, though, when we arrived in Holland, how little selection there would be in our sizings. The shops themselves were tiny( and very specialised ), and I didnt have the vocabulary to ask where to go for what I needed.
I was also embarrassed by my weight, and felt conspicuous, like the only fat person in the country. It wasnt the first time I had felt fat, but it was the first time I felt that everyone else was thin the Dutch are nearly uniformly tall and slender, and there was absolutely nothing in my sizing. The Dutch shop assistants also tended to be very frank and would say, You must be here to buy a gift for someone else or, You must eat a lot to be so big. I always said that if I ever considered a larger woman in the street, I would stop her and ask, Hey girl, where do you shop? But I never insured one.
Im not unaware of the space that I take up in the world( and were I ever to forget about it, there is always person ready to remind me ). People seem to enjoy telling me that obesity is the most dangerous health hazard, but they say it in a way that stimulates it clear this is not really about my health. Its a route of saying: Youre disgusting. Put down your fork.
I understand the health risks of being big. I have lost and gained weight on many occasions, and I support anyone who wants to improve her health. But it is exhausting to feel as if your value to society is less the more you weigh, and I am tired of having to defend my body to strangers. I would simply like to be able to buy clothes to wear while I go about my everyday life.
After our stint in Holland, we decided to relocate to Scotland, where my son was going to university. Before the move, we had a brief journey to the States, and I drove my rental automobile to Target as soon as the jetlag wore off. Target has everything from clothing to automobile accessories, and sometimes a full-sized grocery store. I have always enjoyed slipping clothes shopping into other errands, picking up a latte at the in-house Starbucks and filling up my red cart. This time, I piled it high with all the things I supposed I might need in my new country( and which I had had to live without for so long ).
In the US, large-size clothes are often in a separate department, or there are shops that sell only clothes for larger females, such as Avenue and Lane Bryant.( Lane Bryant has more than 800 stores in 48 of the 50 states. Some people love them, and then theres a friend of mine who calls them Lame Giant .) Sometimes, this division into larger and smaller seems like a big-girl ghetto; sometimes, its nice not to have to move through rack after rack of clothes that were not attained for me.
A lifetime of trial and error has taught me a few things. I know that a store such as Gap might stock a couple of larger-size items, but Banana Republic, for example, will label a shirt that is no larger than a medium One Size and call it a day( though many shops offer larger sizes online ). Occasionally, Id try some place new, but largely I received it easier to stick to places I knew I liked and had things for me( hence my devotion to Target ).
Two years since arriving in Scotland, life suits us much better than Amsterdam. The people are friendly. We dont own a automobile, and because Edinburgh is such a pedestrian city, its easy for us to get our 10,000 steps a day. I run a reading and writing class, my husband can walk to his chore, and my son isnt far away from his university.
Read more: www.theguardian.com